The Sutton Trust,
What makes great teaching?

Robert Coe, Cesare Aloisi, Steve Higgins and Lee Elliot Major have produced a very useful meta-study for The Sutton Trust on the empirical basis for common teaching practices.

While the study is focused on school education, the lessons for higher education should be broadly applicable. Inter alia, the study highlights research debunking the “teach to students’ learning styles” myth.

The marketisation and consequent consumerisation of higher education in England is unlikely to be reversed. Pressure from senior administration to manage student satisfaction too often involves acquiescence to students’ preferences rather than the harder task of explaining why the discomfort associated with developing the intellect is an essential element of university study.

For higher education practitioners, such research is essential in seeking to counter these pressures in an informed, evidence driven manner. Systematic engagement with research on pedagogy should be seen as the bulwark of intellectual integrity in university learning. 

Read the full article on The Sutton Trust website.

See also:Sutton Trust (PDF of full report), The Conversation (summary by study authors), The Guardian (coverage of report)
Times Higher Education,
For-profit buy-out bonanza forecast

Leakage from public education provides profits for both operators and speculators.

“Baird [an investment bank] says it expects to see a new wave of big-money buy-outs of education companies as investors eye opportunities for substantial growth.”

The growth in revenues and profits substantially provided by taxpayer subsidies in the form of student loans.

Read the full article on Times Higher Education website.

See also:Baird (press release)
Times Higher Education,
Uncontrolled expansion: how private colleges grew

Andrew McGettigan writes a detailed case study on Regent’s College and the funding and assurance environment that allowed it to grow so rapidly.

“Yet the fact remains that Regent has so far graduated just 10 HND students in its history and these successes came from small cohorts. Even then, those 10 were just one in three of those who signed up. Regent’s learning curve has already been heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. In the last financial year, the college received more than £4.5 million from loan-backed tuition fees. Larger sums would have gone to students as loans and grants for maintenance support.”

It is clear that the private provider sector is poorly regulated and, as it stands, a significant drain on resources for higher education in the UK.

There have been some reforms since the size of loans to students to study at private providers was realised (£900m in 2014-15).

Despite the increase in scrutiny, it is far from certain that students and taxpayers have received any meaningful increase in value for money or diversity of provision from the emergence of the for-profit sector.   

Read the full article on Times Higher Education website.

The Guardian,
How much does an Oxbridge undergraduate really cost?

Nick Hillman on the opaque nature of claims about teaching costs:

“One reason why higher education institutions are reluctant to produce detailed numbers on their costs is that it would expose internal cross-subsidies. Disciplines that can be taught for less than £9,000 – such as arts, humanities and business – may be subsidising those that are not self-financing, and enabling surpluses for future building projects.

“There are two competing views about such cross-subsidies among those working and studying at universities: they should not happen, or they should be concealed. Neither is right. Students typically want to study in broad-based institutions, and some cross-subsidies are reasonable in any multibillion pound charity such as a modern university. Today’s students benefit from the investments of yesterday and are in turn securing their universities for tomorrow.”

Mr Hillman is correct. Openness is in the best interests of the sector and ought to lead to a rational discussion about who subsidises what activities and for how much.

Academics in surplus generating departments fully understand the challenges imposed on faculty and students by the large classes, high marking loads and part-time teaching staff required to generate surpluses.

It is not surprising that universities wish to remain opaque on departmental finances. It is surprising that students and parents have taken so little interest in the matter.

Students in surplus generating departments might be rightly upset at the extent that they are taxed to support other activities. Students, as Mr Hillman notes, will likely not want these taxes eliminated but recalibrated to ensure a more equitable distribution of faculty and facilities.

Read the full article on The Guardian website.

Institute of Economic Affairs,
Universities challenged: funding higher education through a free-market ‘graduate tax’

Peter Ainsworth’s discussion paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs is an argument for greater privatisation, deregulation and financialisation for university education, involving (as Nick Hillman at HEPI rightly acknowledges) a significant shift in risk for the society being educated to individual institutions.

Any financing proposal that minimises the value of non-financial personal and social returns to higher education should be seen as only a partial solution, at best. Any shift in the mission of institutions to contribute to the betterment of society, however imperfectly this can be measured, will surely lead to greater inequality.

While there are clearly flaws in the current funding arrangements—many of which, including the much greater financial burden on middle-income earning graduates—the IEA paper correctly identifies, further individualisation of the costs and risks should be resisted.

Read the full article on Institute of Economic Affairs website.

See also:HEPI's response, Full paper, BBC story, Philip Booth's response (New Statesman), BBC story, Peter Ainsworth's Guardian Column, Peter Ainsworth's Guardian Column